Training

Why Did I Suddenly Lose Strength In My Bench Press?

Updated September 16th 2022

How come I am suddenly losing strength in my bench press?

Is something wrong with me?

Unless you fell ill or stopped going to the gym, you did not “lose” strength for your bench press.

What is probably happening is that you have reached the training threshold at which your body can recover from and you are unable to make any more progress at your current training methodology.

However, if you are consistently losing strength in the gym and you are doing everything right outside of the gym, consult with a medical professional as soon as possible.

Causes: Why Is My Bench Press Getting Weaker?

  • It's a random bad day
  • Improper recovery
  • You are psyching yourself out
  • Insufficient programming
  • Poor work capacity

We can go on and on about why you are losing strength in your bench press.

It may feel as though your bench press is going backwards.

But if this is a chronic issue or a persistent issue that is not going away, it is in your best interest to seek a medical professional.

As resilient as our bodies may be, they sometimes are warning us accurately about any malfunctioning bodily functions.

Let us dive into some reasons;

Let us first rule out any external factors, which as getting sick or stop going to the gym.

If you are getting sick, your body will not allocate all its resources to helping you become a magnificent beast.

Hopefully, you are not getting sick after doing heavy squats and deadlifts.

Conversely, if you stop going to the gym, your strength will naturally decrease since your everyday situation does not demand that your body carry that much muscle and strength.

A few things can happen if you suddenly feel that your loss strength in your bench press: a fluke, you are have not fully recovered from your previous workout or you are mentally psyching yourself out.

1. A random bad day

These days can happen.

It has happened to me.

It has happened to lifters in the past.

You get this feeling of "Why am I suddenly weaker in the gym...?"

You want to chalk it up to a random bad day...

 

It can happen to you.

While we always do our best to limit these days from occurring, they do sneak up on us.

So, what can we do about it? How do we know it is happening? Here is one scenario:

You are suddenly unable to do a similar working set this week but you finished it last week

Let us say you are doing a 200lbs bench press for 3 sets of 5 reps.

You were able to do that last week and you felt pretty confident about that workout.

In fact, you could have probably done 3 sets of 8 reps and it would have still been moderately challenging.

Flash forward to next week.

You are struggling with 200lbs for even one set of 3 reps.

What should you do?

Does this mean you have gotten weaker?

Do not sweat it.

Chalk it off as a bad day and do not beat yourself up for it.

Instead, try to rationalize what you CAN do for that day.

So, if 200 lbs was your working set, why do 185lbs for the same rep scheme?

Or stick with 200 lbs but hit several sets of doubles so that you can accumulate some training volume?

Or switch up your bench press variations by doing paused bench press instead of touch and go.

There are endless possibilities available for you.

Before you know it, in the very NEXT workout, you are just as strong.

And are able to pick up where you left off.

This is a good thing since you are able to navigate rough times and adjust your workout accordingly.

2. You have not recovered from your previous workout

  1. You are not sleeping or eating enough
  2. You are at the limits of recovery
  3. You are running an inappropriate program

Are you feeling tight?

What we are talking about is you being under-recovered.

As popular as overtraining may sound, it is incredibly difficult to overtrain.

In a majority of claims to be overtrained, a minuscule percentage is probably true due to how abundant food, knowledge, and resources are available in the world.

You are just under-recovered.

Period.

And what do I mean by lack of recovery?

It can mean several things:

You are not sleeping enough and eating enough

Strength and muscle building works best when you pair high-quality sleep with a caloric surplus diet.

With this powerful combination, lifters are able to tap into a majority of their potential, just from eating and sleeping.

The rest is working hard in the gym.

But be honest, you have a choice to go to bed at around 9 PM or 10 PM but you chose to stay up late and waste time with your electronics.

You are unaware that you are addicted to electronic stimuli and just stay up longer than you should.

In addition to this poor behavior, eating habits are not properly controlled with the rise of fast-food chains and complex work schedules.

Though, a burger after your workout might not be a bad idea.

You reached the limits of your recovery

Working out on 5 hours of sleep should be out of the question.

You have been sleeping 10 hours a day.

You are eating a caloric surplus.

But you are still stalling at the bench press.

In fact, you feel that you have gotten weaker.

What gives?

Do not be alarmed.

There is an explanation for this too as many other lifters have experienced similar sensations as you.

Simply put, you are unable to recover from your current bench press workout.

For example, if you are doing 225lbs for 3 sets of 5 reps and are unable to do it the following three weeks, your body is trying to tell you that you need more time to recover from 225lbs for 3 sets of 5 reps.

There is nothing wrong with that as your body is trying to quickly recover as fast as possible to protect itself.

So, what can you do?

You need to adapt.

Taking a deload is one popular option that many lifters opt for as it temporarily gives the lifter a break while their body furiously rebuilds itself.

There is a difference between a deload week vs a week off though.

Some lifters may find that a deload is the perfect solution for their problem as they are able to continue to make progress for an extended period of time after the deload.

For other lifters, a deload did not do anything.

In that case, you should listen to your body and just take a reset.

Drop the intensity and restart your progressive overload again.

You are still getting in a decent amount of volume, which will always increase over time as you continue training.

In fact, restarting my progressive overload is how I got to achieve a 225lbs bench press at 170lbs bodyweight.

You are too advanced for your programming

Do you know that there are bench press standards for your bodyweight?

In fact, there is data gathered from thousands of lifters on what a beginner, intermediate, advanced, and elite lifter should bench press at their body weight.

For example, a 200lbs male would be an intermediate lifter if he can bench press 245lbs for his 1 rep max.

If you have been doing your program for over a year and it has suddenly stopped working, it may be time to reflect on whether or not the programming is an issue.

For a majority of lifters, they will often stop a program before 6 months is over.

So, a lot of gym-goers will need to practice discipline instead of blaming something on their sudden loss in strength for the bench press.

But for those lifters who have been consistent with their program for at least one year and have a sudden loss in strength for the bench press, you need to ask yourself if the programming is still appropriate for you.

Typically, beginner and intermediate lifters can get away with linear progression style programs, like Greyskull LP or Starting Strength.

These programs will add more weight after every successful workout.

This means you are able to recover after each workout and still progress in weight.

Some intermediate lifters and a majority of advanced and elite lifters are forced to structure their programming differently.

Instead of making progress every workout, it is deliberately planned to increase weight every week or every month, depending on the lifter.

This ensures that the lifter has an optimal trajectory to hit a future personal record by always training with enough stimulus for the body to continue to get stronger.

Because of these programming reasons, this makes a 405lbs bench press rare, relatively speaking.

3. You are psyching yourself out

When you think too much about your progress, you sometimes get too much in your head.

You expect yourself to be at 100% at all times and you want to hit all your numbers (even more if possible) for every single workout.

When you come back into reality, you will find that life is not all sunshine and flowers.

There are struggles and challenges. You are forced to make tough decisions.

You will even fail a few workouts.

Does that mean all your hard work training for weeks is ruined? Not necessarily.

One of the most important things to realize is that as important as you want your bench press PR to be, it is not the end of the world if you cannot hit your working sets today.

Just try again next time.

Readjust your plan for the rest of your workout.

The world does not revolve around your missing a few sets and reps.

But your attitude and ability to stay focused are vitally important for your long term gains in the bench press.

4. Insufficient programming that makes your bench press go backwards

Poor workout construction or lack thereof is one reason why your bench press sucks.

At first, it may have been working but you were also doing random stuff at the gym, whatever you felt like doing.

One day, you could not add weight to the bar and your numbers started to drop.

A great program will account for day-to-day or week-to-week changes and adjust accordingly.

Fortunately, this is an easy fix—

  1. Find a great workout program like 531 Forever and implement it
  2. Drop the weight and increase your sets/reps, do not ego lift
  3. Try to improve a different variation

Aside from recovery issues and injuries, being healthy but having a bench press plateau is one of the better problems to have. 

You are healthy and can still train hard.

This is just a minor setback for your to overcome in order to become stronger, and better.

5. Poor work capacity

You are limiting your top end bench press strength if you do not develop and progress your work capacity.

You do not build a mansion on muddy and weak foundations.

So, why do you do the same for the bench press? Change that today.

Here are some strategies in order to build up work capacity over time—

  1. Include more warmups 
  2. Include for accessories in circuits to decrease rest time
  3. Include GPP aerobic activities 

Here is a upper body warmup for the bench press that you can do to lay a good bench press foundation.

It involves 3 exercises. Perform for 25 reps each exercise 4 times in a circuit without rest—

Why Is Bench Press So Hard To Improve?

  • You are not on a proper program
  • You are not training triceps enough
  • You are not training back enough
  • You are not training chest enough
  • You really do not want to improve

If you are only chasing your training numbers in the gym day by day, even week by week.

It shows me that you have not fully understood how to strength train properly.

From what I learned in 5/3/1 (my current program), there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Beginners' results on 531 may vary— the foundations of a solid and steady strength training program is what makes or breaks a great program.

Viewing strength gains as just improving each session or each week after years of training...

That is getting old for me.

Yes, if you have not been lifting for years, you should be making progress each session or week.

However, after saying no to gaining excess bodyweight, I have reached the crossroads of strength training for me.

How do I keep getting stronger if my bodyweight stays stagnant?

Well, have a looked at strength training another way?

This is what I mean:

  • Can I train through mini-cycles injury free?
  • Can I accumulate volume and make sure I hit all my training sets each month for years to come?
  • Am I lifting heavy weights?
  • Am I practicing good technique?

If you do the things I mentioned above, do you think you are getting stronger or weaker?

Especially if you have been training for years, your strength displayed today will not be the same as your strength displayed tomorrow.

Strength gains are not linear.

So, do not have unrealistic expectations.

You should be aware of your linear progression limitations and this is no stranger to the bench press.

So, why exactly is the bench press so hard to improve?

This is something I struggled with even to this day...

  • You are not on a proper program

A bench press EMG research on 12 national and international athletes was done to see which muscle fibers fire the most during the flat bench press.

These were the results, ranked in order of most used muscles to least used muscles:

  1. Lattissimus Dorsi
  2. Triceps Brachii/Posterior Deltoids/Anterior Deltoids
  3. Biceps Brachii
  4. Pectoralis Major, both clavicular and sternocostal

If your program does not include main lifts that target the lats, and your bench press is decreasing, it might be time to re-evaluate your program.

Something as simple as just adding in lat pulldowns for some good volume might slowly help you creep up your bench press max.

Deciding whether your lat pulldown should be heavy or light might the trickiest part.

  • You are not training triceps enough

If your triceps are weak, you will have a tough time getting a bigger bench press.

Overhead press (ohp) accessories are very similar to bench press accessories in that you are targeting the triceps for both size and strength.

Here are some of my favorite ones:

  1. Tricep pulldowns
  2. Skullcrushers
  3. French Press

These are not the only triceps accessory exercises and there are plenty of alternatives, for instance, skullcrusher alternatives that you can substitute if you want to hit your triceps a different way or just change up your workout a bit.

  • You are not training back enough

You know you are doing something right when you get a sore upper back from bench presses alone.

That was a joke.

You should feel soreness in your lats primarily.

Just as you would feel sore lats from pushups if you just started compound pushing exercises.

Adding in exercises that help with these functional motions will mimic what the lats actually do:

  1. Shoulder extension
  2. Internal rotation of the arm
  3. Adduction of the arm
  4. Trunk extension
  5. Trunk flexion
  6. Trunk side bends
  7. Scapula depression

Most functional activities will revolve around these motions. 

It is vital to have strong lats so that you can continue to get stronger and more powerful.

  • You are not training chest enough

Though chest is the last muscle group to be registered in maximal activation during the bench press, this does not mean you should ignore it.

You need to make sure you maintain your pushing strength to ensure that you have no weak links in your body.

Chest is fun to train for most people anyway.

Adding in an extra exercise for 1-2 more training days would be one modification.

Or adding 3-4 extra exercises on one day would show similar training results.

  • You really do not want to improve

If you are doing all the right things training-wise and you are not improving, something does not add up.

You do not really want to improve.

You have to be honest with your training goals since you will not be hurting anyone but yourself.

If you just want to work out and be healthy, do not set lofty goals that cannot be reached.

If you are an athlete that needs to hit a milestone, creating a systematic plan to reach your big goal is a great motivator to get you through all the lows of working out.

Is a 225 bench good?

Roughly 1 in every 1,000 people can bench press 225lbs, which is fairly impressive when you compare every human on Earth.

It is a gold standard benchmark that all lifters who begin their fitness journey want to accomplish.

It is not that impressive as we continue to train and gain more experience in the gym.

As you become an intermediate lifter, with over 3 years of training experience, you will begin to realize how much better you can achieve.

You can reach for way more.

First, 275lbs. Then— 315lbs.

Conclusion

Anyone that promises you a 2x bodyweight bench press by not training for a long time is fooling you.

A 225lbs bench press is a good first goal.

Know that anything worthwhile in your training will not come easy.

You will need to earn it.

So, if you do experience a sudden drop in your bench press strength, do not be alarmed.

Be logical and try to isolate the issue.

If you rely on a coach to tell you what is wrong, you miss out on a lot of self-learning.

Be patient and stay consistent.

Only then can you reach a respectable bench press.

I can barely bench press... what should I do?

Prior to bench pressing, mastering push-ups is a great first step towards the correct direction.

Developing very similar movement patterns will help you bench press better faster.

While you are also adding volume with your push-ups sets, do not be afraid to continue to bench press with anything—

  • Just the bar
  • Dumbbells
  • Resistance bands

Anything and everything will help when you are beginning to learn the movement or just recovering your form and strength from a previous incident.

It is vital to continue to go to the gym and be consistent since they will compound your upper body results.

As you continue to repeat the process and stay on the grind, you will be adding weight on both sides of the bar very soon!

Can you get weaker from working out?

Yes, your performance will diminish from working out if you are—

  1. Under-recovered
  2. Losing sleep
  3. Not eating enough protein
  4. Accumulating high levels of stress without a detox

Feeling terrible after working out is just your body's way of telling you that you need to do more to recover from training stress.

The number one priority would be to get more uninterrupted, high-quality sleep.

It is a widespread agreement among advanced and elite lifters that they would rather skip workouts and get better sleep than to go have a poor training session with bad sleep.

This is partly because they are lifting very heavy weights so rest is even more important to prevent injuries.




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